This is the answer edition of What is required for a question to contain "enough information"?

As a continuation of the above, the second key problem that I see Software Recommendations having is people answering questions in a manner that is extremely low quality and not very useful for future visitors. These sort of answers can be broken down as follows:

  • Link only answers
  • "I Googled your query and found this" answers
  • Answers that do not explain how their recommendation meets the requirements of the asker

We've already seen this on the site during private beta and Gilles has already initiated a call to arms to review some of the problems we've encountered so I'm not going to rehash the state of some of the answers that are already on the site. The purpose of this meta post is to come to a clear community agreed consensus on what constitutes an acceptable answer, that can be linked to in future when asking somebody who has answered a question to improve the quality of their content.

Like questions, I feel that high-quality software recommendations (answers) should follow guidelines on both formatting/presentation and content.

Posting

The asker has asked for recommendations. Stack Exchange provides a system to upvote and downvote answers (recommendations). In order for this system to work as designed, I feel we need to follow this simple rule: one recommendation per answer.

If this means that you end up posting multiple answers, each with one recommendation in it, then so be it. This is the most useful way to use the Stack Exchange engine to present this information.

This will make it clear when voting takes place what is being voted on, and provide a higher quality of content straight out of the box. Future visitors will be able to clearly see what is being voted on in the recommendation and this will increase the value of the content we provide.

Content

Be verbose.

The asker has provided a list of requirements that the software must fulfil. It is the responsibility of the answerer to provide details on how their recommendation fulfils these requirements. Use screenshots if the asker has asked for a clean or intuitive user interface so that the asker doesn't have to install the software to see that you're right.

Detail plugins and community sites if the application you've recommended is extensible in this way. If some of these plugins are required to meet some of the requirements stated by the asker then link to the plugins in the answer.

Formatting

Formatting is important, try to mirror the formatting in the question in your answer. The asker should have listed their requirements in a list, use their same list in the same order if you can when detailing why your application meets their requirements.

Make sure that points you make that you feel are important are properly emphasised to aid readability and draw the asker's attention to the points you're making.

  • 5
    It would be better if you didn't write the answer in the question. Also, when there is no consensus, omit the topic or link to the ongoing debate — I, for one, strongly disagree with a “one recommendation per answer rule”. – Gilles Feb 11 '14 at 9:08
  • 7
    One recommendation per answer is the normal method employed by SE when they want a list of things to be voted on in a manner that means something (see: moderator election Q&As for an example). If you allow multiple recommendations in one post, which recommendation does the upvote support? What if one of those recommendations is terrible? To an outsider, that terrible suggestion is upvoted... – Flyk Feb 11 '14 at 9:11

What is expected of an answer on this site?

An answer needs to be tailored to the question. Answers that consist solely of a product name or link and generic information copied from the product description or other promotional material may be summarily deleted.

Good questions describe a task and list requirements. Good answers:

  • explain how to accomplish the task using the recommended product;
  • show that the recommended product meets the requirement.

Ok, so how do I write a good answer?

Here's my advice on writing a good answer — a sort of answer template. Not every good answer has to follow that model, but if you're unsure how to write an answer, start with this.

  1. If there is any major caveat with the answer that may make it unsuitable in some realistic circumstances, lead with that. For example, if you're recommending a very expensive product, or if you're recommending online software for a scenario where users may not have an Internet connection, mention that right off the bat. (Of course, if the question requests a free tool or an offline tool, your answer would be wrong.) Most answers shouldn't need this bit.

  2. Mention the name of the product, linking to the web page that is the best introduction to it. That's usually the project's home page or the vendor's product page, but sometimes the Wikipedia article, a page on the project wiki or some other page may be more appropriate. Link to other resources that are generally interesting, for example third-party Windows binary for an open source project, give the name of Ubuntu/Fedora/… packages, etc. Good tutorials for the audience defined by the question can be nice as well.

  3. Go over each of the requirements in the question. One by one, explain how they are met. Some requirements are trivial — if the requirement is “runs on Android” and the product link you give is on the Android market, that's enough. Other requirements may need more details.

    • It's often good to link to the part of the documentation that describes the feature that implements a requirement.
    • If the software and the question use different terminology, match up the vocabulary.
    • If the software needs to be configured in a certain way, explain how to do it (or link to a stable resource that explains it if it's too long, e.g. on the project's wiki page).
    • If a requirement requires third-party add-ons, link to them and explain how to install them.
    • If there are multiple ways to achieve a requirement (multiple features that can be used for the same goal), discuss them and explain how one would pick between them.
    • For nice-to-have requirements, explain to what extent they are met.
  4. Mention anything else that's important to know, and that is likely to be relevant to the audience implied by the question. This is not the place to tout how the product is the cat's pyjamas, but to inform the reader about things that are good to know. Be honest: mention downsides as well as upsides. For example: “FooBarSoft has a unique feature which can help you in that …”. Or “feature X can be hard to configure, but once you manage that it can greatly help you by …”.

  5. If you think that the requirements are a poor match for the overall goal, state that, and explain how to better achieve that goal. (Most questions shouldn't need this.)

Personal involvement in answers

First, if you are affiliated with the product in any way, you must disclose your affiliation, as per general Stack Exchange policy. This goes for products developed by the company you work for, for free software projects you contribute to, or any other situation where you stand to gain from usage of the product. A failure to disclose may lead to the deletion of the answers and to additional sanctions against your account.

It is often better when you recommend a product that you have used for a task similar to the one in the question, but you can recommend a product that you didn't use (or used only for different purposes) if you can see (and explain) that it is a good fit for the question. See also How important is personal experience?

May I offer more than one recommendation?

If you feel that different products will work best in different circumstances, go ahead and recommend them. Be sure to indicate how to choose between these products.

Whether to do so in a single answer or through multiple answers is debated here: What to do when an answer contains several suggestions?

  • 3
    Yes! "Be sure to indicate how to choose between these products." <- this, with this I truly agree. I don't think it's good idea to categorically forbid any answer telling about more than one product. Obviously, anything that just lists alternatives with no reasoning is bad. – Olli Feb 11 '14 at 11:48

Reposting, based on a earlier response of mine that can be found here. (Mostly just reusing the annotated screenshot)

  • Should start with a product name, That is a link and a Heading, (use ###)
  • Should have either a List of notable features, or a check off against the Questions Requirements (Must/Should Would). using dotpoint with bold single sentence summaries (or Bold Yes/No/Partial, and Italic Summaries, when checking off requirements), and a explanation that is not bolded (if required).
  • Should contain links. Think of it like a good Wikipedia Article. Links can be great. Ideal answers should be detailed enough that links are useful to further explain concepts.
  • Should have a screen shot if, it would help, But if it wouldn't then don't.
  • Dot Points are great, Use them

This is tooting my own horn, but This is what a good answer looks like,


This


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